Articles Posted in Divorce

Published on:

Legal News GavelThe Wisconsin courts take child support payments very seriously and demand that parents pay close attention to ensure that they are meeting their obligations. While many may think that child support is something that can be put on hold for a period of time while dealing with tough or unpredictable circumstances, the reality is that courts will allow parents very little leeway around their obligations to pay. This is illustrated in a recent decision before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

In Henson v. Henson, Mr. and Mrs. Henson became estranged in 2012. During a child support hearing that year, the Waushara County Child Support Agency petitioned the court to order Mr. Henson to pay child support to Mrs. Henson because the children were living with her at that time. After reviewing financial records and Mr. Henson’s income, Mr. Henson was ordered to pay $116 per week in child support.

In 2015, the child support agency moved to modify that child support order after Mr. Henson left his job and moved into self-employment. Based on the previous unemployment income he had received and his current self-employment, the agency made a recommendation that his child support be increased to $144 per month. Mr. Henson opposed this increase and argued that he had been diagnosed as diabetic and demoted at his old job after he was found unconscious. When he challenged the demotion, he was fired. He stated that although he was now self-employed, he had had difficulty in finding new work, and his unemployment benefits had run out. The court, however, followed the child support agency’s recommendation and raised Mr. Henson’s monthly child support obligations.

Published on:

Legal News GavelDuring a divorce, most couples think primarily about how the assets they have will be split up. They want to know who will get the house, the retirement accounts, and the most time with the kids. What many couples may not realize is that the debts of the family must also be split between the couple when they divorce, particularly when those debts are accrued during the marriage. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at how the repayment of credit card debt that arose during a marriage should be allocated between divorced spouses.

In Collison v. Wyderka, Andrew Wyderka and Allison Collison were married over a period of 12 years, starting in 2001. During that period of time, Allison accrued over $24,000 in credit card debt on a card that was in Andrew’s name. According to Allison, the debt was based on purchases made for the family and benefited all of the family members. Eventually, the card became delinquent and went to collections. Allison enlisted the help of her father, and he managed to negotiate the debt down to $7,500, which he paid off in full. Allison and Andrew promised to repay Allison’s father for the debt.

Shortly after the repayment, Andrew filed for divorce. During the pendency of the divorce proceedings, Allison’s father sent a letter to Andrew, demanding repayment of the debt. A small claims court action was eventually initiated. Allison’s father sought repayment of the debt. Andrew then sued Allison for her portion of the repayment, and Allison countersued Andrew, claiming that he had agreed to pay the debt in full.

Published on:

Legal News GavelWisconsin law and public policy give significant preference to marriage and marital families. The structures of family law and divorce revolve around the idea that a couple who love each other will get married, have children in wedlock, and later get divorced if needed.

Yet many couples, especially in recent years, have chosen to cohabitate, merge finances, and raise families together without ever officially marrying. When these couples break up, they don’t have the ability to utilize the divorce system in order to divide their property equally and fairly, and, as a result, one spouse sometimes gets the short end of the stick.

As a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court case makes clear, one remedy for this situation that the courts have adopted is to allow former partners in a relationship to seek unjust enrichment claims against the other when the assets of a relationship are not evenly divided.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Legal News GavelAfter an initial order for child support is made, the obligation falls on the parties to ensure that any necessary child support payments are made on a monthly basis. When a party falls behind on child support payments, this is known as arrears. The party who is entitled to receive the outstanding child support can attempt to recover these arrears by negotiating payment with the party who is not yet paying, or, if not successful, they can file a motion with the court to recover the outstanding amounts, as well as penalties such as interest and attorneys’ fees.

In In Re The Marriage Of : Connie M. Weiland v. John D. WeilandMr. and Mrs. Weiland divorced in 1998 after several years of marriage. As part of their divorce, Mr. Weiland was ordered to pay child support to Ms. Weiland as well as to split uninsured medical expenses with her. Mr. Weiland’s employer was supposed to calculate and take child support out of Mr. Weiland’s paycheck, but at times the employer failed to withdraw the correct amount.

For unexplained reasons, Ms. Weiland waited until 2013 to raise unreimbursed medical expenses with the court, and only in 2015 did she file a contempt motion with the court, alleging that Mr. Weiland had not paid certain medical expenses and child support. The overall amount owed was approximately $9,000. Mr. Weiland had previously paid $355,000 in child support.

Published on:

Legal News GavelDuring the process of getting a divorce, most couples will consider whether either spouse should be entitled to receive spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is a payment that one spouse gives to the other in order for the spouse receiving the payment to keep up with the standard of living to which they are accustomed. Whether Wisconsin spousal maintenance should be awarded is based on the circumstances of the spouses at the time of the divorce, including the needs of the parties, the income of the parties, and the standard of living during the divorce.

When spousal maintenance is awarded, it is a finalized and defined amount of money that must be paid every month. However, spousal maintenance can be changed when a substantial change of circumstances occurs. Things like a medical condition, a special needs child, a job loss, or a move can all represent a substantial change of circumstances. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at whether a voluntary job change can also be a change of circumstances justifying a modification of spousal maintenance.

In Marriage of Purdy, Rande and Lisa Purdy divorced after 34 years of marriage. At the time of the divorce, Rande was working as a director of sales for a family liquor company and earning twice what Lisa was earning as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. As a result of the disparity of their income, the court awarded Lisa $1,000 a month in spousal maintenance.

Published on:

Legal News GavelWith the importance of higher education in today’s society, many couples who are contemplating divorce must discuss not only how child support will be divided while their children are growing up, but also whether, and how, their children’s higher education expenses will be addressed. A recent Wisconsin child support case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals looks at how to address college expenses when a marital settlement agreement is ambiguous about this responsibility.

In Marriage of North v. Farris, Ms. North and Mr. Farris divorced after four years of marriage. During the course of their marriage, they had two daughters together. Ms. North and Mr. Farris agreed to a marital settlement agreement during the course of their divorce, which included provisions for child custody and child support. The MSA also provided for the payment of higher education expenses. It stated that Mr. Farris would pay for five years of tuition and books, should their children go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and would split room and board with Ms. North.

The couple’s daughter Natalie attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and took 10 semesters (five years) to graduate, plus three summer sessions. Ms. North sought reimbursement from Mr. Farris for these expenses, but Mr. Farris refused to pay for the last two semesters of Natalie’s schooling, saying that the MSA obligated him only to pay for five school years, or 10 semesters, which Natalie had already exceeded. Ms. North argued that the MSA required Mr. Farris to pay for five calendar years, regardless of the number of sessions or semesters Natalie completed.

Published on:

Legal News GavelWhile most couples enter into a divorce hoping to complete the process as amicably as possible, that is not always the case. Whether due to disagreements over money, accusations of cheating or other offensive conduct, or battles over custody, a Wisconsin divorce can quickly turn ugly. Name-calling and fights over possessions are one thing, but when a spouse’s actions go from that to verbal or physical harassment, it may be time to get a court involved.

In Zernia v. Zernia, Sharon Zernia did just that. After experiencing harassment from her ex-husband, she sought an injunction to stop any further harassing behavior. Sharon and John Zernia divorced in 2011, and the process was a very contentious one. Several years later, in 2015, John approached the Pastor at the church that Sharon and her family attended, and he had several meetings with the Pastor to alert him to immoral conduct in which he believed Sharon had engaged, including stealing items from his home and being a “sadly mentally ill” mother. John also printed and distributed 110 flyers at Sharon’s church that also made these allegations about Sharon. After Sharon learned of the flyers, she petitioned the court for an injunction against John to keep him from coming near her and from further harassing her.

At the injunction hearing, John argued that he did not intend to hurt Sharon but was merely acting in accordance with his Catholic beliefs, which required him to alert the church to Sharon’s allegedly immoral behavior. Sharon testified that she was alarmed by John’s behavior and was worried for her safety. The lower court found that while John’s efforts to reach out to Sharon’s Pastor were not harassing, the flyers that he left on cars were. Since there was no legitimate purpose to the flyers, the court granted Sharon an injunction against John. John appealed.

Published on:

Legal News GavelIn Milwaukee divorce cases involving children, guardian ad litems (GALs) are frequently appointed to help represent the best interests of the child before the court. Ex-spouses may request the appointment of a GAL, or a court may require a GAL to be appointed. In either circumstance, the GAL will have fees for his or her time that must be paid by the parties involved in the divorce. How those fees are paid can be an issue of contention, especially when they rack up over time. In a recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, one spouse attempted to object to having to pay his share of GAL fees.

In Marriage of Arlene Gregerson v. Christopher Gregerson, Arlene and Christopher filed for divorce and sought custody over their two minor children. Since custody was contested, the court appointed a GAL to participate in the proceedings. After some negotiation, Arlene and Christopher reached a marital settlement agreement, which was incorporated into the court’s order of divorce. As part of the settlement agreement, Christopher and Arlene agreed to split the GAL fees 50/50. At the time, they did not know the full extent of what those fees would be. After the proceedings were completed, the GAL submitted a request for payment of her fees. Christopher provided the court with a written objection to the fee petition, but his objection was overruled, and the court approved the payment of the fees. Christopher appealed, arguing that he was entitled to a hearing to consider the objections that he had to the fee petition and that the court failed to credit him the $400 deposit he made toward the payment of the GAL’s fees.

In Wisconsin, county court rules govern the handling of disputes over payment of GAL fees. In St. Croix County, where Arlene and Christopher were located, the county court rules provide that any party who has a dispute with the payment of GAL fees should raise the issue with the judge or commissioner for it to be reviewed. Accordingly, Christopher filed his written objection to the fee petition and also requested that a hearing be scheduled to address his objection. The court reviewed his written objection and determined that it could resolve the issue on the basis of the written submissions. It therefore declined to conduct a hearing and granted the fee petition. On appeal, Christopher argued that the “review” of his petition required more than simply reviewing the documents, and it required that a hearing be scheduled. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the rules gave the court the discretion to determine how to handle any objections to the payment of GAL fees and that if the court deemed a review through the documents sufficient, this satisfied the requirements of the rule. Since the rule did not explicitly require a hearing, the court did not err in deciding not to grant one.

Published on:

Not surprisingly, criminal acts of domestic violence by one spouse toward another frequently result in the filing of a divorce. In addition, frequently victims of domestic violence will seek a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction to prevent the abusive spouse from having contact with the abused party or even with the children. Whether you are the alleged victim or the alleged abuser, there are strategy considerations to consider in deciding how to deal with this emotional and sometimes dangerous situation.

First, both parties should understand that a domestic violence accusation complicates a divorce case in several ways. If a restraining/injunction is granted, this means that the parties will not be able to have any contact without a specific exception from the court for divorce related issues. These exceptions may not be granted, particularly if the court has reason to believe that one party may be endangered. This means all efforts to pay bills, get kids to school or daycare, attend medical appointments, address holidays, etc may fall to the spouse who has placement. Both sides under these circumstances are well advised to retain a lawyer to try to obtain court orders that work around the impediments a no contact order can cause.

If a criminal case is going on at the same time as the divorce, the judge in the criminal case may impose his own no contact order as a condition of release on bail, which overrides any other court order in the divorce. Again, having a lawyer, preferably the same lawyer for the divorce and the criminal matter, is essential to coordinating the criminal and the family law courts. If both sides have attorneys, sometimes it is possible to negotiate a temporary order in a divorce that makes an injunction unnecessary or allows a criminal court judge to feel comfortable relaxing a no contact order in the criminal case. Sometimes, having absolutely no contact is not what the victim really wants and instead just wants the violence to stop and the spouse to get help. While that result seems reasonable on the surface, there are several possible impediments to such a resolution and having reasonable lawyers on both sides will increase the odds of a rationale result in all forums.

Published on:

Legal News GavelDividing a couple’s assets during a divorce is almost always a complicated endeavor. Courts must consider money an individual brought into the marriage, money and assets acquired during a marriage, and how to split up physical property like a home and vehicles. When a couple owns a business together, this becomes immensely more complicated, as a recent decision by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals illustrates. Rarely can a family-owned business be neatly divided between two ex-spouses without some sort of issue arising.

In In Re The Marriage of Haley v. Haley, Patrick Haley and Anna Haley decided to divorce after 12 years together. During the time that they were married, they owned and operated a company called IPS-CareFree Enzymes, which provided various enzyme products to companies and consumers. While running the business, Patrick invested in a new product that removed certain enzymes from pools and spas with a hose-mounted sprayer. He received a patent for this device and licensed use of the product out to different companies.

When Anna and Patrick divorced, they negotiated a Marital Settlement Agreement and a separate Supplemental Business Agreement to cover the division of their company. Under the SBA, the two ex-spouses divided up their former customers and decided that they could not cross-solicit from each other’s customers. Per the SBA, both parties were entitled to use and market all of the products created by the Company, including the product that Patrick patented. Several years later, Anna’s new company, now named Auraco, began advertising products for sale, including the patented product. Patrick sent a letter to Anna to demand she stop selling the patented products. He then moved to reopen divorce proceedings to clarify the extent to which Anna could sell the patented products. Anna sought the same clarification.